Travelling back in time in Luther Country
Want to travel back 500 years? In Lutherstadt Wittenberg, stand in the middle of the enormous Asisi Panorama, the circular painting depicting medieval street life. It looks so real, you can almost smell the food, hear the church bells and eavesdrop on gossip. Even shaking hands with Martin Luther and his friends seems a possibility!
But there are many more connections to the great reformer in the German federal states of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, just south of Berlin, in LutherCountry. You can walk the same cobbled streets, enjoy the same food and see what his family life was like in intriguing museum displays.
In Luther’s parents’ home in Mansfeld-Lutherstadt, for example, the exhibition ranges from the simple clothing of Luther’s day to cooking pots and even children’s toys. The town of Mühlhausen is best known for its beautiful half-timbered houses, but its Peasants’ War Museum is worth a visit for its deeply-moving exhibition recalling the sacrifices Protestants made for their faith after the Reformation. That abrupt change in history also inspired great art. A close friend of Luther’s was the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. In both Magdeburg’s Cultural History Museum and Gotha’s Friedenstein Castle, you can see powerful works that confirm his reputation as one of the foremost painters of his age.
Nowadays, we think nothing of driving or flying hundreds of miles to far-flung places. Travel was different in the Middle Ages. Although most people never left their community, a few journeyed great distances. Luther, for example, walked the 1,000 miles from Germany to Rome. The trip took months; he sheltered in monasteries along the way. To get a feel for that experience, stay at St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt. Luther spent five years here as a monk; today’s bedrooms may be plain, but they are definitely more comfortable! After his excommunication, Luther hid at Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament. Take the tour and then stay overnight in the castle’s shadow at the atmospheric and luxurious Romantik Hotel auf der Wartburg.
In LutherCountry, there are many ways to feel links to the era of the Great Reformer. Perhaps the easiest is strolling around an authentic Christmas market, part of daily life for centuries and of course the Reformation Day Festival in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Or join locals at traditional events, such as the annual Onion Market in Weimar and Luther’s Wedding celebrations in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, which re-enact the exchange of vows between Luther and Katharina von Bora in 1525.
Then, there are meals. Luther loved Thüringer Rostbratwurst (grilled sausages) and beer (still brewed to centuries-old recipes). For a deeper sense of the past, sign up for themed dinners, sitting at communal tables, set with wooden platters, pottery cups, spoons, and knives (forks were the devil’s implements). Start with thick pea soup; continue with roast pork or chicken, dumplings and red cabbage. Among medieval restaurants are Erfurt’s Lutherkeller (groups only) and Lutherstadt Eisleben’s Lutherschenke; hotels serving medieval feasts include Lutherstadt Wittenberg’s Best Western Stadtpalais and Eisenach’s Eisenacher Hof. Whichever you choose, you are “eating like Luther!”